The future of editing is in its past

Tom Skowronski often wonders in a blog over at Videomaker where editing is going, and why does it have to be complicated.

The answers to his many questions are actually at hand, if one has any experience across the digital transition. Allow me to attempt to win his prize of “ten free high fives”.

Where we are going- the trends in software in general say that we are headed for software as a service and subscriptions. The needs and demands of more and more power mean that the code will get bigger, the programs will have more features and the capability to tell stories will require more training and practice- not less.

Which answers the complicated question- to have power requires complexity. Given the huge investment to get programs to where they are, be they FCP, Avid or Premier, or any of the many others fighting to get a significant portion of the market, the likelihood that one of them will take the radical step of stripping down the code tree to build it better, as in simple as well as complex, is highly unlikely.

Combine that with the diminishing return inherit in the pricing trend, and who would bother starting from scratch?

Then Tom wants to know if there is a NLE that feels most intuitive? Or is it all subjective? Well the most intuitive one is the one you know best. But if I had to train someone from scratch, I would l want to teach them Lightworks, which won its early dominance in Hollywood on being easy to learn, and very easy to edit in, and lost that dominance because it failed to provide titling complexity anywhere near fast enough for the television series market, and then stumbled further on not executing a shared storage solution that was robust for the feature market just a few years later.

The good news is that the Lightworks application, after a series of ownership changes, is still out there, but at such small numbers that it is still pricey. Today it has a ton of complexity too – equal to any and capable of HD native multilayer images, but still edits fast and is easy to learn. If you get it with the dedicated console, you can really rip as fast as you can think.

Then Tom asks ‘why do people need to feel as if something is work for us’? Why do we need easy to make use of anything, be it cars, computers or recipes. Well that’s pretty available too. We all want to do what we want, not what some programmer or engineer thinks we want. With cars, its fairly limited. Toasters- not a problem for the designers to sort out. But editing is very open ended. And very few programmers have actually had to tell a motion picture story themselves. If they did, they wouldn’t take up all that screen space with stuff you hardly ever touch. They wouldn’t lock you into modes, or make changing a layered image so damn hard. Going back to when processors made it obligatory to render effects etc, they are stuck with how they got here, and nobody is likely to pay for reworking the path just because it requires a learning curve.

Lastly Tom asks- “why is there a struggle here?” Look in your pocket Tom. Its about what motivates business- yours, the software providers, the producers, everybody. Money and by extension the market for media, and production software makes it very challenging to suggest that the current models are bloated, overcomplicated or need fixing. I mean, if I run the FCP program at Apple, what’s broken? The app keeps making money, and selling hardware. It’s a thing of beauty, and now there are tens of thousands of people for whom the FCP model is the intuitive choice. Do they want more power without more complexity? You bet. Can we provide it to them without sustaining huge hits in profitability and user loyalty? Why would we try?

Now I doubt that Tom will like these answers. And it really doesn’t matter if I get his high fives. It would really matter if there was a company interested in the next generation of production software, since I have the spec and other requirements to build it, as well as having identified a market and business model that could make it profitable. For the last decade, we haven’t seen anything compelling on the business side to lure any visionary investors to this sort of development. What passes for the big boys of media software are too focused on eroding each other to look for a paradigm shift that could actually create the next revolution in the democratization of media.

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